13 September, 2019In one the other longest labour disputes in German history, 130 workers at two steel plants in southwest Germany have been on strike since 11 June.
The strike at the Hennigsdorfer Elektrostahlwerke (HES) plants in Trier and Horath began after the company unilaterally declared in May that collective bargaining negotiations had failed and stated that the company did not intend to conclude an agreement with IG Metall.
HES is owned by Italian steel group Riva, and has two other production sites, where the workers are covered by a collective agreement. Riva bought the Trier and Horath sites two years ago, and incorporated them into its Germany subsidiary HES. Wages are reported to be 20 to 30 per cent lower than the regional collective agreement.
It would cost about one million euros more per year to pay the workers the regional rate. The economic damage cause by the strike is now estimated to be around three million euros, yet management refuses to budge. Workers believe that the strike is no longer about money. Riva owns other German steel subsidiaries, and there are concerns that the company is attempting to set a union busting precedent.
The strike has attracted support from the local community and the Social Democratic, Left and Green political parties. Demonstrations have been held in Trier, and the workers have sent several delegations to Berlin to meet the labour minister.
The strike has also attracted international support. Delegates to the IndustriALL Global Union Mechanical Engineering world conference, which met in Stuttgart on 11 and 12 September, passed a unanimous statement of solidarity, saying:
“We – 90 participants from 19 countries – stand in solidarity with the striking workers of Riva.”
Valter Sanches and Luc Triangle, general secretaries of IndustriALL Global and industriAll European Trade Unions respectively, sent a joint letter to Riva management, calling on them to resume collective bargaining negotiations with IG Metall.
The letter said:
“IG Metall was left with no choice but to call for a strike, which has the absolute support of the workforce. Workers have been now on strike for more than 13 weeks, but the situation remains unchanged.
It is important to add that IG Metall has even offered to conduct talks under the guidance of mediators in order to facilitate the discussions, but to no avail.
IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union call on Riva Stahl to return to the negotiating table to achieve a fair and just solution to the conflict.”